Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

The Black Forest

Oberkirch is a pretty village at the entrance to the narrow and charming valley of the River Bench, up which my route leads, into the fir-clad heights of the Black Forest. A few miles farther up the valley I wheel through a small village that nestles amid surroundings the loveliest I have yet seen. Dark, frowning firs intermingled with the lighter green of other vegetation crown the surrounding spurs of the Kniebis Mountains; vineyards, small fields of waving rye, and green meadow cover the lower slopes with variegated beauty, at the foot of which huddles the cluster of pretty cottages amid scattered orchards of blossoming fruit-trees. The cheery lute of the herders on the mountains, the carol of birds, and the merry music of dashing mountain-streams fill the fresh morning air with melody. All through this country there are apple-trees, pear-trees, cherry-trees In the fruit season one can scarce open his mouth out-doors without having the goddess Pomona pop in some delicious morsel. The poplar avenues of France have disappeared, but the road is frequently shaded for miles with fruit-trees. I never before saw a spot so lovely-certainly not in combination with a wellnigh perfect road for wheeling. On through Oppenau and Petersthal my way leads - this latter a place of growing importance as a summer resort, several commodious hotels with swimming-baths, mineral waters, etc., being already prepared to receive the anticipated influx of health and pleasure-seeking guests this coming summer - and then up, up, up among the dark pines leading over the Black Forest Mountains. Mile after mile of steep incline has now been trundled, following the Bench River to its source. Ere long the road I have lately traversed is visible far below, winding and twisting up the mountain-slopes. Groups of swarthy peasant women are carrying on their heads baskets of pine cones to the villages below. At a distance the sight of their bright red dresses among the sombre green of the pines is suggestive of the fairies with which legend has peopled the Black Forest.

The summit is reached at last, and two boundary posts apprise the traveller that on this wooded ridge he passes from Baden into Wurtemberg. The descent for miles is agreeably smooth and gradual; the mountain air blows cool and refreshing, with an odor of the pines; the scenery is Black Forest scenery, and what more could be possibly desired than this happy combination of circumstances. Reaching Freudenstadt about noon, the mountain-climbing, the bracing air, and the pine fragrance cause me to give the good people at the gasthaus an impressive lesson in the effect of cycling on the human appetite. At every town and village I pass through in Wurtemberg the whole juvenile population collects around me in an incredibly short time. The natural impulse of the German small boy appears to be to start running after me, shouting and laughing immoderately, and when passing through some of the larger villages, it is no exaggeration to say that I have had two hundred small Germans, noisy and demonstrative, clattering along behind in their heavy wooden shoes.

Wurtemburg, by this route at least, is a decidedly hilly country, and the roads are far inferior to those of both England and France. There will be, perhaps, three kilometres of trundling up through wooded heights leading out of a small valley, then, after several kilometres over undulating, stony upland roads, a long and not always smooth descent into another small valley, this programme, several times repeated, constituting the journey of the clay. The small villages of the peasantry are frequently on the uplands, but the larger towns are invariably in the valleys, sheltered by wooded heights, perched among the crags of the most inaccessible of which are frequently seen the ruins of an old castle. Scores of little boys of eight or ten are breaking stones by the road-side, at which I somewhat marvel, since there is a compulsory school law in Germany; but perhaps to-day is a holiday; or maybe, after school hours, it is customary for these unhappy youngsters to repair to the road-sides and blister their hands with cracking flints. "Hungry as a buzz-saw" I roll into the sleepy old town of Rothenburg at six o'clock, and, repairing to the principal hotel, order supper. Several flunkeys of different degrees of usefulness come in and bow obsequiously from time to time, as I sit around, expecting supper to appear every minute. At seven o'clock the waiter comes in, bows profoundly, and lays the table-cloth; at 7.15 he appears again, this time with a plate, knife, and fork, doing more bowing and scraping as he lays them on the table. Another half-hour rolls by, when, doubtless observing my growing impatience as he happens in at intervals to close a shutter or re-regulate the gas, he produces a small illustrated paper, and, bowing profoundly; lays it before me. I feel very much like making him swallow it, but resigning myself to what appears to be inevitable fate, I wait and wait, and at precisely 8.15 he produces a plate of soup; at 8.30 the kalbscotolet is brought on, and at 8.45 a small plate of mixed biscuits. During the meal I call for another piece of bread, and behold there is a hurrying to and fro, and a resounding of feet scurrying along the stone corridors of the rambling old building, and ten minutes later I receive a small roll. At the opposite end of the long table upon which I am writing some half-dozen ancient and honorable Rothenburgers are having what they doubtless consider a "howling time." Confronting each is a huge tankard of foaming lager, and the one doubtless enjoying himself the most and making the greatest success of exciting the envy and admiration of those around him is a certain ponderous individual who sits from hour to hour in a half comatose condition, barely keeping a large porcelain pipe from going out, and at fifteen-minute intervals taking a telling pull at the lager. Were it not for an occasional blink of the eyelids and the periodical visitation of the tankard to his lips, it would be difficult to tell whether he were awake or sleeping, the act of smoking being barely perceptible to the naked eye.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 22nd May 1885 (23:30 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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